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Ways a Caregiver Can Encourage Independence

by Barry J. Jacobs, AARP Caregiving is not babysitting. Let those who!

Many caregivers struggle with finding a balance between doing too much and too little. This is all the more complicated when a care receiver's abilities change from day to day or even hour to hour. There should be an understanding that caregivers won't take over any tasks unless they absolutely have to. But whether help is or isn't necessary is open to endless debate between earnest caregivers and proud care receivers.

How do we maintain our loved ones' independence and morale by providing them with the right amount of support to optimize their functioning? Here are some ideas:

Powwow and plan. Even before your parent needs help, talk with her about how her capabilities may change as she ages. Begin a conversation about how she might one day cope with diminished physical and cognitive abilities and how you might best support her.

Don't jump in with help too quickly. Be cautious before introducing change into an aging parent's life or risk resistance. Observe your parent's behavior and functioning before concluding that she actually requires assistance at this time.

Focus on what your loved one can still do. Steer her toward her strengths — for example, setting the table if she hasn't the organizational skills to cook a full-course meal, or remembering old times if she's lost short-term recall.

Frame help as empowering. Tell your parent that your job is to help her live as well as possible as she gets older. Reassure her that the goal is to enable her to continue to do the things she still wants to do — just as leaning on a cane, for example, might help someone walk farther than she might otherwise. Emphasize that you may be the cane but that she is still traveling the path of her own life.

Adapt from an article in AARP

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